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University of Virginia picks its first female president

Teresa A. Sullivan, 60, is respected as a scholar and administrator. She was chosen to lead U-Va. from a pool of more than 150 nominees.
Teresa A. Sullivan, 60, is respected as a scholar and administrator. She was chosen to lead U-Va. from a pool of more than 150 nominees. (Megan Lovett/associated Press)

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By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Leaders of the University of Virginia on Monday elected Teresa A. Sullivan, provost at the University of Michigan, to succeed John T. Casteen III as president of Virginia's higher education flagship.

Sullivan, 60, starts work Aug. 1 in a post regarded as one of the most visible in public higher education. She will receive an annual compensation package of $680,000 and will be the first female president of U-Va., the school founded in 1825 as an "academical village" by Thomas Jefferson.

Like many in the top echelons of academe, Sullivan is regarded as both a scholar and an accomplished administrator. She has served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at Michigan, one of the nation's most prestigious public universities, since 2006.

She spent the previous 27 years at the University of Texas, including four years as chief academic officer for the Texas system's nine campuses. She has also written or co-written six books and more than 80 scholarly articles and chapters as a sociologist.

"She's done it all, all the things you need to do to prepare to take on this kind of leadership responsibility," said Molly Broad, president of the American Council on Education and former president of the University of North Carolina.

In introductory remarks Monday afternoon, Sullivan said of U-Va.: "I can't imagine a better environment for a student, a scholar or an administrative leader. I look forward to being part of it. Let's work hard."

She also acknowledged the long shadow of the man she would replace.

Casteen, 66, has led U-Va. for 20 years, a lengthy tenure for any college president, and has overseen its evolution into a public university supported largely with private funds. Casteen kept the 21,000-student university near the top of collegiate rankings during a two-decade span when state support has dwindled from 26 percent of the university's budget to 7 percent.

In the 2010 U.S. News rankings of national universities, U-Va. ranks 24th overall, alongside UCLA; the two are tied for second among public institutions, behind the University of California at Berkeley.

U-Va. completed a $1.43 billion fundraising campaign under Casteen in 2001, the second-largest sum ever collected by a state university at the time. He departs in the midst of a $3 billion campaign, the largest ever among public schools at the time the effort was launched in 2004.

"He will be a hard act to follow," Sullivan said.

U-Va.'s Board of Visitors elected Sullivan as its eighth president in a unanimous vote just after 2:30 p.m. Monday. John O. Wynne, the university rector, said the panel was "confident that in Terry we have found a worthy successor" to Casteen.

The search committee weighed more than 150 nominees, said Ann Hamric, head of the faculty senate, who was on the panel. Sullivan was a clear standout, she said.

"She is an accomplished academic who does groundbreaking work in labor force demographics and continues to publish and teach, even in the face of these enormous administrative responsibilities," she said.

Mary Sue Coleman, president of the University of Michigan, said she felt "fortunate that we had Terry for four years."

Sullivan grew up in Little Rock, which was segregated at the time. She attended Michigan State University and completed a doctorate in sociology at the University of Chicago. She joined the University of Texas as an instructor and worked her way up the ranks.

Her husband, Douglas Laycock, a Michigan law professor, will move to Virginia's law school.

Addressing the U-Va. community Monday, Sullivan said: "I bring you my dedication, extensive experience and, above all, my passion for the tasks ahead of us."

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